Spiring key part of Bombers’ success Past chair of club’s board of directors a trailblazer for women in sports

Dayna Spiring went where no woman had gone before: onto the Grey Cup.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/07/2022 (201 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dayna Spiring went where no woman had gone before: onto the Grey Cup.

And she played a pivotal role in taking her hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers to new heights, overseeing a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that was once in complete disarray, but is now the crown jewel of the three-down loop.

Bonus points for smashing a few tired stereotypes along the way to making some Canadian sporting history.

CP TYLER WALSH / ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WINNIPEG Dayna Spiring takes part in the 2019 Grey Cup parade.

“It’s taken a long time to get there. There’s probably nothing more manly than a football locker room. And I get that, but my experience in the CFL has been a group of guys who were more than happy to welcome me at the table,” Spiring said Friday. “I think there was some nervousness on all sides, but they were incredibly respectful. They were incredibly welcoming. They were ready to hear my ideas, ready to get my feedback. And I think that’s all we can ask for.”

Spiring doesn’t get the same accolades the likes of Zach Collaros, Adam Bighill, Willie Jefferson, Mike O’Shea or Wade Miller might. But her contributions have been significant, as proven by the fact her name is engraved on the CFL’s holy grail. Twice, in fact. She is a true trailblazer, making her mark in a sport that has always been male-dominated. She has spent the past seven years on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ board of directors, including a three-year term as chair that began with a 2019 championship that snapped a 29-year drought, and ended with a second straight title last winter. She now sits on the board as Past Chair.

“It’s been a run,” says Spiring, who is the President and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg. “It’s like that old saying, ‘The best of times and the worst of times’. COVID was so hard, and some of the stuff we had to go through was so hard. But we’ve got an incredible team and we’re reaping the benefits of that now. We are the envy of the CFL right now. You saw that last weekend with 30,000 people in our stadium. That’s what it’s about. That’s when you know you’ve done a great job. We’ve built something that people are proud of.”

The community-owned Blue and Gold released its annual financial report earlier this week, announcing a $2.1-million operating profit for the fiscal year. That’s a massive jump from the $9.7 million in losses from 2020 when the CFL was forced to to go dark due to the global pandemic. Revenue generated came in at $32.8 million, which nearly equals 2019 totals despite the 2021 season being shortened to 14 regular-season games (seven at IG Field) rather than the usual 18 games (nine at home).

All of which came under the watchful eye of Spiring, who was just the second woman to chair a CFL team after Jo-Anne Polak held that position with the Ottawa Rough Riders from 1989 to 1991.

Born in Brandon, her family moved to Winnipeg when Spiring was 11. Bomber games, both on television and in person, became a staple in her household. Her resume is an impressive as they come. Having earned her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Manitoba, she worked five years as an associate at Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson LLP in the early 2000s. She later became chief strategy officer and general counsel for the Canadian Wheat Board and has severed on numerous committees and boards, including Manitoba Hydro.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Dayna Spiring was chair of the Bombers' board for the club’s back-to-back Grey Cup victories.

Spiring joined the Winnipeg Football Club’s board of directors in 2015 through a public nomination process at the urging of former Chair David Asper. Her background and business acumen was sorely needed for an organization that was still in the early stages of trying to rebound after a disastrous stretch, with the so-called Canadian Mafia of president Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach O’Shea now at the helm.

“It is unbelievable to watch the culture that they’ve built, the work ethic that they have, everybody from Wade and his executive team to Kyle and Mike and the players on the field,” said Spiring. “I’ve got an inside vision into what other teams do and you hear from teams that aren’t able to fill their stadiums, you hear from teams that aren’t having success on the field. I watch what their teams do and compare that to what our team does, and there’s a reason we’re doing as well as we are.”

You would think the rest of the league, especially those in the East, would be doing everything possible to pick the brains of the Bombers to try to emulate their success. You would be correct.

“Every president of every football club in the CFL has Wade’s cell phone number on speed dial and some of their owners as well,” said Spiring. “He’s the hardest working guy in the CFL. And he’s trying things constantly. He’s failing fast where he needs to, but finding great ways to get people in the stadium.”

Spiring said reaching that next generation of fans has always been a priority, and the Bombers have done that in various ways including a flag football program and academies that are now being duplicated in other markets.

“I think that is building that next generation and it comes through that we have a product that is a great family event. We need to be able to cater to a whole range of fans. So we’ve got things like family zones, and we’ve got places where university students can go and party and we’ve got places where corporate seats can be. We know that we need to make sure that young people are engaged. They’re the future.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Spiring takes a photo of the 2019 championship plaque on the Grey Cup with her name on it before a ceremony at IG Field in September, 2021.

A future, she believes, is quite bright, after some extremely dark days.

“During the pandemic, we were all scared. There was a lot of talk around whether everybody could survive it and what that looked like,” she said.

“We’ve gone through some pretty tough years and I think you look at some of the teams, we’ve got great ownership now in B.C. who are doing great things and really rebuilding that organization You’re seeing some success in Montreal and some new passion there, which I think is great. There’s always going to be work to do and we’ve got to figure out how to make sure that we’re presenting fans with the experience that they want in stadiums. But last weekend at our stadium, 30,000 people tells me that there is a way to do this right. And so, I feel really good about where the CFL is at.”

And that includes better representation across the sporting landscape. Slowly but surely, the glass ceiling is going away as women land coaching, management and executive roles in various major leagues around North America including the CFL, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

“I think once you kind of break that seal, you know, and women take a seat there, I think there’s a little bit of momentum. We’re seeing it across all sports right now,” said Spiring. “And I think the tide is moving in the right direction. We still have a long way to go. But I think there’s a real willingness and a real desire to have our boards be representative of our fans. The reality is we’ve got a lot of female football fans in the CFL and I think it’s great that you’re seeing some female representation in leadership positions.”

It’s about damn time.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Spiring’s name appears on the Grey Cup twice.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Friday, July 22, 2022 8:06 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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